Four minority Seattle-Tacoma International Airport restaurant owners say the Port owes them more than $90 million in money they would have made if they had better locations for their restaurants.
The four concessionaires are all part of a program that is supposed to facilitate airport leases to “disadvantaged businesses” — those owned by women and people of color.
Instead, the four business owners say the Port discriminated against them because of their status. They weren’t offered the best space in the central terminal, they wrote in their claim, and the airport gave them less-favorable leases and charged them to make improvements to their locations. One wrote the Port’s terms “rendered the business nearly unprofitable.”
The Port says the claims do not have merit. Anyone could have bid on the anchor tenant space in use by Anthony’s Restaurant. That space has cheaper lease terms because it carries bigger risk, said airport spokesman Perry Cooper.
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An attorney for the business owners said they are declining to speak publicly.
In their claims, the business owners calculated how much more they would have made in sales with a better location. For example, David Fukuhara used to own a Tully’s on Concourse A. He compared its average annual sales — $686,000 — to the $3 million in annual sales at the Central Terminal Starbucks.
He also compared the amount of rent he paid to the lower rate he would have paid with a lease like Anthony’s.
Fukuhara figures the Port owes him $44 million for the money he lost between 2001 and 2011 on three airport businesses.
In other claims, Manchu Wok owner Sandy Sun claimed $10.7 million in losses after comparing her sales with the Qdoba in central terminal. Danny Eberhardt, who owns a Quiznos on the B concourse, filed a claim for $17.3 million. And Jerry Whitsett of the SeaTac Bar Group says he lost $19 million.
The four filed claims in March, and followed up with an Oct. 8 letter threatening to sue. They have not filed any lawsuits.
In September 2012, the Port Commission tried to do something about their complaints that they were being treated unfairly. The five-member commission, led by Commissioner John Creighton and former Commissioner Rob Holland, voted to direct staff to look into renegotiating their leases.
At the time, Port staff warned commissioners the Federal Aviation Administration would not allow them to rewrite only some leases. The commission passed the motion anyway, and later, the staff confirmed they could not legally carry out the action.
Now the restaurant owners are using that against the Port, saying the motion is proof their lease terms are unfair.
In their October letter, the business owners wrote that the September commission vote “recognized in no uncertain terms the conditions, which lead to significant economic disparity resulting in financial hardship to each of us.”
Cooper, the airport spokesman, said the Port has offered to try to help the business owners in ways allowed under the FAA guidelines, but those discussions have not been successful.
Concessions at the airport are having a record-breaking year for the second year in a row, Cooper said. But no one is doing as well as Anthony’s. In 2012, it was the highest-grossing airport restaurant in the country.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org.